Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Breaks and Routine

Creative people, although awesome, sometimes have a hard time focusing their creative energy into their potential work on a daily basis. Some people refer to their creative juices as their muse, someone or something that gives them ideas or inspiration.

NaNoWriMo is all about writing whether or not your muse shows up. And somewhere along the way of forcing yourself to write, you learned how to keep going whether or not you felt like it.

Yes, the crazy deadline of 50,000 words in 30 days is in our past. But the lessons we learned in those 30 days can stay with us much longer than November. You can write more than once a year if you develop a habit of writing.

If you’ve decided to write on a regular basis, you must find a routine that is conducive to both your schedule and your sanity. If you decide that your best time to write is 5am, make sure that you can get up at that time on a consistent basis, what you write is coherent, and you don’t spend the whole time going, “This is stupid. I should be sleeping.”

While routines are wonderful, things like the holidays, family trips, family emergencies, power failures, and whatnot tend to disrupt those routines. While you may enjoy the break from cleaning out the castle grout with your standard toothbrush, remember to get back to your writing after your schedule clears. But if you take too long of a break, you may never come back to your story.

Basically, breaks are awesome. Constant progress on your story is also awesome.

Now, get back to your story. Your princess is complaining that she’s been left alone too long. The good thing about editing is that you can place her with the hungry dragon whenever she’s annoying. Whether or not you tell her that you won’t leave her there is entirely up to you.

*saluting you with my own editing toothbrush*
*heading back to my reconstructing castle*

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Constructive Criticism

Today we will discuss criticism. No one likes being told where the flaws are in their story. This is one reason it is recommended to get some distance from your story before going back to edit it. When you look through the pages that took you hours to craft, the post-NaNo glow will have worn off. You will spot errors – some that should have been apparent the moment you wrote it. The more you read, the more horrified you become regarding your work. It is this feeling of “this is wrong!” that I want to address.

During the month of November, we stopped listening to the Inner Editor and kept kicking Doubt out the door. Now that your draft is complete, it is time to listen to both of them. You will be bombarded with their feedback and might even be horrified with parts of your story.

But without listening to them, you cannot make your draft better. You cannot mold your November work into a manuscript worthy of another set of eyes without questioning the character’s motives every three days and deleting those extra adverbs.

You may be wondering how this has anything to do with criticism. Once you’ve given yourself space from your story, you’ll see your mistakes. This is good, since seeing the mistakes means they can be fixed. Accepting that your November baby needs work is essential. When your beta readers contact you, they will be pointing out the same thing.

Your wonderful beta readers will read your work and give you feedback. They will see more mistakes that you haven’t caught. They will question your secondary character’s background, why the horse appeared without warning, and why you spent three paragraphs describing alien technology that wasn’t needed vanquish the bad guy.

You will disagree with your beta reader on some things. But their words will cause you to think. They will make you answer questions you haven’t asked yourself. They will ask questions about parts you left out without meaning to. Their feedback will help you.

Now, we don’t point out to a child who’s handed us a picture of a rainbow that the colors are wrong. They are basking in the glory of creating something. But you’ve reached the point where you’ve learned that it takes more than the simple joy of creating something in order to make your story presentable. You must question everything, and you must enlist the help of people to help you do the same.

Please keep in mind that their feedback is not attacking you. Your story, your baby, is not perfect. It is your beta reader’s job to point out where it is not perfect. Where there are flaws. They are there to help you catch typos, punctuation errors, plot holes, historical inaccuracies, tangents that don’t connect, and scenes that don’t work.

Beta readers don’t tell you these horrible things so you will sit in a corner and cry. They do it with the mind set that you want your story to improve. And in order to make some things better, you have to redo some things, regardless of how long it took you to begin with.

Each suggestion they make is just that – a suggestion. You don’t have to take their advice. If they don’t like your ending, fine. This is why I suggest enlisting more than one beta reader. If more than one person points to the same section as a trouble spot, chances are it needs work.

But the section that one person touts as unbelievable may earn praise from the next reader. This is where you just have to go with your gut and the majority of your votes. If one person didn’t like your ending and the rest loved it, chances are you’re good.

When my beta readers checked in, I got two different reactions about the ending. One person didn’t like who I picked as the groom, and spent most of the ending upset because their choice was not it. Another beta liked the ending, but agreed that a certain aspect of the ending needed work. I was able to take both of their comments and did a partial rewrite, making the consequences for one of the characters more believable.

Hearing how much work you have ahead of you is never a fun thing. But if you don’t know where your trouble spots are, it’s always nice to have someone point you in the right direction. There may be a few tears when three people point to the scene that you were so proud of three weeks ago as one that needs rewriting.

Remember that writing is an art. It takes a lot of practice to be any good at it. You are allowed and expected to make mistakes. The trick is to find your mistakes and correct them in a way that pleases your future readers.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Time Has Come

“The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax. Of cabbages and kings.” – The Walrus and the Carpenter (quoted in Alice in Wonderland)

Though I was one of the children that found Alice in Wonderland a bit creepy, I still remember this quote (mostly...I only got a few words wrong, one of which was a synonym). I cannot think of "the time has come" without remembering this random line from a poem.

Anyway, today we will discuss something very helpful in your editing process. Without this step, you will likely spend more years editing your manuscript, driving yourself crazy, and writing in circles than making progress. And while those things are very scary, what I’m about to suggest may give you another panic attack.

Let Others Read It
If you are the writer who turned off spell check, wrote scenes out of order, song lyrics, recorded what you ate for lunch and why your character is driving you insane all within the confines of your novel, do not run away. I am not telling you to send that document to a reader to get their opinion. We don’t want your friends thinking you’re too crazy.

When you finish editing your draft, it will at least be semi-coherent, if not mostly that way. But there will be rough spots. It happens with a draft. Remember our talk about that? A draft means it’s not done.

Just like the post-NaNo glow, if you read over your newly edited draft, you will get a warm-fuzzy feeling. Aww! I did that! It’s even better than before! Yeah! And while editing improves what you have, you’re not done. :(

The next step, once your draft is at least decent, is to give your manuscript to a reader. Explain you need an honest opinion. Tell them what you want to do with the book.

Pick the Right Reader

Your family and the majority of your friends are most likely the wrong candidates for this mission. They know you, they love you, and anything you have done will only be seen through the eyes of “aww, you did that!” Like a child finger painting, you will receive praise and adoration for a job well done. These readers will not tell you that you colored outside the lines, that you used the wrong color order for your rainbow, or that they didn’t like your secondary character. They may not notice some things that desperately need attention. They’re just still amazed at your ability to write.

Find a fellow writer who understands what you are doing and why. Make sure they understand what your book is about, the kind of feedback you’re looking for (varying from “is the story any good?” to “how much much work does this need?”), and that you need honesty.

Now, don’t give your vampire novel to someone who hates that genre. Find a reader who is interested in your story, who you have interacted with before, and one you feel comfortable sharing your work with. I have sent my NaNo manuscripts to strangers I met on the forums, but the most valuable feedback I received came from ones who I already knew from the critique boards. They expressed interest in reading more, and I took them up on it. Their feedback was honest, nitpicky, and exactly what I needed to make my book better.

Give a Deadline

Set a reasonable time frame to get feedback. If they are in constant contact, respond honestly. Answer their questions. Though it hurts your pride every time, agree when they point out one of your mistakes that you swear made sense when it was penned in November.

Don’t nag, but don’t disappear from them. Check in if your time frame passes and you haven’t heard from them. Most will let you know if things are crazy and will say if they need more time.

Be Specific

Always ask questions from your readers. Let them give you their feedback, but ask questions that you’ve been sweating about in the mean time. Did you know that was the villain? Was her illness believable? Was the ending too convenient? Did I describe the alien architecture enough? Did that conversation with the uncle work?

If you aren’t specific in your questions, you are likely not to get specific answers.

Be Thankful

Thank your reader often. They are taking time out of their lives to provide you with valuable feedback. Thank them. Thank them. Thank them.

Be Prepared

You will likely not like all of what your reader has to say. I had a beta reader who hated my dream sequences and had issues with the way I ended the story. But because they were specific about why they felt that way, I was able to make the ending better.

Keep in mind that your beta reader’s word is not gospel. Opinions vary. Though it’s hard, I suggest finding at least two, preferably three readers. If all three have issues with the same section, chances are that needs work.

Being a writer means growing a tough skin. Next week we will talk about how to handle constructive criticism. This, too, is an essential skill if you wish to continue writing. But we’ll talk more about that later.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


The joys of NaNo have ended. Crossing the finish line of victory is now in our past. We must now let loose our Inner Editor and let them wreak havoc on one of our writing babies.

Get Some Distance

Reading through your novel shortly after you finish it is fun. You will see some errors, but I’ve found that mostly you will smile, like the story, and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. If all you want to do is get that warm-fuzzy feeling again of how awesome you did during the NaNo season, then go ahead and reread your NaNo creation.

With that said, though, I will tell you now that I don’t plan on rereading my own NaNo story until at least Christmas, more than likely January. I spent a good part of November rereading chapters the day after I wrote them. I wrote for 30 straight days, ignoring my own advice about taking a day off. The story is good, I know. But the mechanics of it show traces of NaNo, down to the rambling prayers, minor word padding, and the random > symbols that signaled the start of my word wars.

When I look at this story again, I’m not going to be looking for the warm-fuzzy feeling of NaNo. I’m going to be trusting my Inner Editor to tell me what needs to be fixed. And it order for my Inner Editor to do that properly, I need space from my story. Give yourself at least a few weeks, then come back to the story. Your Inner Editor will point out things with clarity not even he had three weeks before.

Don’t Panic

When you finally get back to your story with enough distance, you will see things that you did not see before.

Wait a minute. She can’t be in her bedroom there! Her sisters were sleeping in her bed last night!
Hmm. How far away is that landmark?
Aren’t the aliens buildings round here? Why are they sitting in a corner?
How did I miss three words in that sentence and NOT NOTICE it before?

Wrong name. Gah. WHY DO THEY RHYME?

Just as I told you before, noticing these things does not make you a horrible writer. Actually, seeing things that must be fixed means you’re on the road to making your story presentable to the masses.

Be Realistic

You just hammered out a draft. A draft has problems. A draft is not done. When you go back to your story, do not expect it to be perfect. Do not expect to fix spelling, grammar, and minor errors and be done. There will be rough spots. Chapters might have to be rewritten. You might have to fill in some plot holes. When you come back to your story in order to fix it, don’t be horrified to find yourself making notes every four sentences. These things are typical of a draft.

Each Writer is Different

Some people have set processes and will have a polished manuscript done after one or two editing sweeps. Others will throw out their stories and start from scratch. My guess is you will be somewhere in between these two extremes. You aren’t going to catch everything the first time through. With that in mind, not everything you’ve written in the past month is worth scrapping. There are some gems somewhere in there.

I’ve found a process that works well for me. I print out my book and make my notes by hand. When I go back to the computer, I have my marked up copy with me. I don’t have to read through each line now, I can scroll down until I make my next note. This is harder than it sounds, because I could have “elaborate” written three times in a single page, meaning I need another up to another paragraph or two describing or expanding on whatever I talked about. Then I have to make sure what I just wrote fits with what is already written.

That’s what works for me. Find what works for you. If it's making comments in your computer document on your first read through, go for it. If it's correcting everything you see as you read through it, working on one page a day, pinning each page to a wall once you're convinced it's perfect, by all means, do it.

Let Others Read It

Yes, your writing can be intensely personal. Yes, you poured your heart and soul into this story for the past thirty days. But YOU wrote it, and you aren’t going to see some things. I highly recommend getting a group of people who enjoy reading your type of stories, who will be honest, and will make the time to read it.

Friends and family reading your stuff is good if they will provide you with feedback beyond “it’s good.” Yes, after thirty days tearing your hair out and agonizing over the next words, “it’s good” is an oasis to your soul and a boost to morale. You have not written drivel, but a coherent story. HOORAY!

But if after reading it through again, you decide you want this story fit for publication, you must make your story better than good. In order for your book to have any kind of chance in the marketplace, it has to be phenomenal. And in order to get your NaNo draft ready for the masses, you have to get opinions of people who live outside your head and haven’t done a tour of the main character’s bedroom yet. You have to have people tell you where your weak spots are. “This is a major plot hole” are words you never want to hear. But if you don’t hear it from someone else, you might never see it yourself.

This Takes Time

Writing is fun. Creating new worlds, describing people who you met three minutes ago while you were staring at your computer screen, and plunging head first into a new character’s set of problems is a lot of fun. Terrifying, exhausting, and slightly crazy as well, but writing is fun.

I’ve met a few who think editing is fun. And while there are light bulb moments and you realize the perfect comeback for your witty sidekick or why the main character always sits in a certain chair, editing as a whole is NOT fun. Editing involves critically looking at every sentence, every sentence structure, every word choice, and every piece of punctuation.

Think of it this way – writing is like storming the castle to rescue the princess. It’s hard, but it’s doable. The process of editing is somewhere between cleaning the castle with a toothbrush and dismantling the castle in order to rebuild it, all while your princess tells you that you’re not doing it right. Remember that dragon you slayed to save her neck? At some point you’re going to wish he had eaten her so you will be done with the story and never have to hear her whining voice again. “I’m not whiny. I’m just right a lot. You know, I think that stone looks better over by the window...”


Just like in writing, breaks are good. You gain perspective. You regain your sanity. You can stop thinking about your whiny princess and why you had to dismantle the castle to begin with. Be sure to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

The problem I’ve found with editing that while other people can see your mistakes more clearly, there’s usually no one better to fix such things than you. Why are you only given a toothbrush? Maybe so when you finish, you know it’s mostly done. At least until the next time you edit.

Editing is a long, hard, frustrating process. It is also very rewarding. Once you finish fixing your mistakes and look over your work, you’re going to be happy with the outcome. Though it drove you bananas, you will be glad that the dragon did not eat the princess in the last scene.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Finish Line!

Today is the day! Whether you’re writing that last scene, adding in song lyrics (alas, of this I am guilty), or taking out every contraction in order to reach that 50,000th word, today is the day you finish. You have trudged on when your character disobeyed, when you had a bad day, and even when you felt that there was no point in going on. But, you are here anyway!

*throws confetti*

If you are still behind, don’t give up until you reach midnight. Get where you can be alone and write until you can write no more. Your characters need an ending. You want to cross that finish line in the same manner as everyone else, arms raised high in exultation as you cross that ribbon? Then don’t quit!

Don’t look at the time, don’t look at your word count. Focus on your scene and write! When you’re finished, check the time and your word count. Set your alarm to go off ten minutes before midnight if you must.

Keep writing until you can write no more. Even if you fall short, you will know that you tried your best, and you still wrote more than you normally would have.

Once you are finished, rejoice. You made it! You wrote a book! It may not be the greatest masterpiece, but you finished it! You have now passed from the scores of people who have said, “I want to write a book someday” to the smaller crowd of “I’ve written a book! And I did it in 30 days!”

Take the next week off from writing. Enjoy the fact that you’re done. Partake of your reward and reintroduce yourself to your family. Get caught up on what you missed while you were writing.

I’ll be updating next week with some thoughts about what to do with your draft. Until then, friends, thank you so much for reading! I hope this has been an encouraging stop throughout your days. I am honored to have had some small part in your writing journey.

If you are already finished as you read this, your assignment for today is to cheer on a writing buddy you’ve made this season. They can cross the finish line, too. They could probably use some encouragement from you. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Ending

We are approaching the end of our writing journey. Our stories that were our new babies quickly turned into their terrible twos and began smashing everything in sight before we knew it. We kept on. The story settled down for a bit. We crossed hurdles. Your story kept adding pages, slowly but surely. And the character that has been behaving themselves suddenly turned into a rebellious teenager. “No, I don’t want to do that. I want to do this.”

Just when you felt like throttling said character, you found a solution that satisfied the both of you. And now, you are nearing the end of these character’s journeys. Some may die heroically. Some leave home happily, enjoying their new lives. Some may die of despair, letting the villain get away. Whatever your ending, it’s coming upon you. It is time for you as the writer to prepare for your characters to graduate from your story. To those that live, they will go on with their new lives, changed. Their new lives may be the subject of another book (that’s usually how mine turn out), but they will have a life beyond this one story.

Graduations are joyous occasions, but also a bit sad for the parent. One chapter in your child’s life is ending. They are moving on to things that do not involve you.

Obviously, these books are not your children. You still hear them arguing in the next room right now, assuring your that all is well in your corner of the world. But on the same token, you have breathed life into a story. And while these characters are fictional and only live in your head, they have been a part of your life for the past month. They have become your children to an extent. Sadly, it is time to set up when you will say goodbye.

Your entire story has been building to this moment. Make it appropriate and special. Prepare your characters for what will happen. Reveal that news you’ve been holding on to for three days. Set the scene. Record the last moment. Do it right, whatever your ending is. Keep on going until you know you’re done. You will know when it is time to leave your characters. Until you reach that moment, stay with them. Stop focusing on your word count. Focus on your story.

The ending is the most important part. Keep writing until you’re satisfied. When you are done, rejoice! Then check your word count. :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Weary NaNo writers, today’s entry is for you. There are some days when you simply do NOT feel like writing. Yesterday’s writing session was long and tiring. You made progress, but you don’t feel like you’ve written enough to help. Regardless of that extra hour you carved out to help you catch up, you’re still behind. Many have already won, and you’re still struggling to make it through your current scene.

Take a Break

Though time is important, your sanity as a writer is also important. If you spend too much time writing, you will become convinced that your story is no good, everything you’ve written deserves to be thrown away, and you were never cut out to be a writer. You recognize those thoughts? So do I. Doubt runs rampant in the last few days of NaNo. You are a writer. You can do this. You will not quit, because your story needs an ending. You want to prove those people wrong who told you that you couldn’t do it, don’t you?

But in order to maintain that confidence, you need to step away from your story for a bit. Breathe. Focus on something else. Go clean something that you’ve been neglecting. You’d be amazed what even a short break will do for your state of mind.

Advice From Dory

I was encouraging a fellow Wrimo the other day, and I found myself quoting Dory from Finding Nemo. “Just keep swimming” was her mantra when she was lost in the Australian waters. Though Marlin was frustrated and had no idea where to go, Dory was right beside him, annoying him with her happy little song. Without Dory’s confidence, Marlin would have never found Nemo again.

So today, friends, no matter how discouraged you are, remember to keep swimming. Keep doing what you know to do. Regardless of how little you believe in your ability to cross the finish line, regardless of your plot-related roadblock or how far behind you are, just keep swimming.

See what happens when you keep on going. Unless you make it through this dip in the road, you will never know what could have taken place. Don’t give up! You’re close to the finish line! If you buckle down and go on despite your exhaustion, you'll make it!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

This Is Hard!

If you’re still behind and typing madly to catch up, right about now you’re questioning your sanity for embarking on this challenge, wondering if you should listen to your children arguing in the next room, and fretting that you’ll run out of plot before you reach the 50k mark.

That spaceship crash you were so excited about a few days ago is dull. The new alien and your hero are chasing the villain, but he is holed up in a place so secure you don’t even know where he went. You’re now wandering aimlessly through the woods with two characters and no hope of it getting any better.

There is Hope

You have decided to go forward no matter what. Yesterday was your jumping off point. Today, we will pretend that you are not free to stop at any time. If you chose to go on, you have passed the point of no return.

Do Not Panic

I know someone who penned 13k on the very last day. I wrote my camp story mostly by hand. If we can cross the finish line, so you can you. All you have to do is believe in yourself and kick Doubt out the door every time he enters. Now that we’re in crunch time, we have no room for Doubt. He will distract you, and you’ve reached the point where you cannot be distracted.

Think of Your Reward

If you’re missing the things you’ve given up in anticipation of finishing, remember that reward you planned a few weeks ago. Soon, you will be able to reap the benefits of your hard work. You can celebrate being done. But first, you have to finish.

You’re Close!

Why give up when you’re this close to the finish line? That pretty ribbon I’ve been gabbing about for days is not only closer, it’s within sight. Don’t give up! How will you feel if you stop now, having never finished?

Keep on Going!

You will never know how far you are able to go until you try. Today, shut Doubt up by writing until you can write no more.

Besides, you’re nearing the end of the story, which is usually the most exciting part. Don’t leave your characters wandering hopelessly in the woods. Have one of them stumble – and that can be the secret entrance to the villain’s lair!

Now go, vanquish that villain! It should take 2000 words easily. :)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fish or Cut Bait

If you are still behind, this entry is for you. My friend, the time has come to make a decision. Do you want to continue? We have four days left in this challenge. That is plenty of time to catch up, provided you have at least 15,000 words. If you are under this threshold, but have a firm grasp on your story and are able to clear your schedule, go for it. If not, sadly, I think it is safe to say you will not cross the finish line. However, you can still write to your heart’s content and finish this story at a time that is a little less hectic for you.

Now, on to the rest of you who are woefully behind and wondering if you can make it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. See if you can clear out some writing time. Stay up later. Put on your best writing music and write. You are on a deadline. That pretty finish line ribbon we discussed this weekend will be taken down. You can still finish after that time, of course, but the NaNo deadline is approaching. You have four days.

Can you do this? Absolutely. You can buckle down, drive out distractions, and type to your heart’s content. If you’re sorely lacking in words, stop using contractions. Remove dashes from words that should be strung together. If you’re running out of plot and still need words, include song lyrics. Include the artist name. Describe a new landscape or a new outfit.

Remember it’s okay to come back later and fix things. Your purpose this month is not to fix what you’ve written. Your purpose this month is to get it written. Get that story out of your head and onto the page. Worry about the things that don’t need to be there or the wrong choice of words later. Today, your goal is to write. I have not bugged you before now about getting ahead.

But as of today, you only have four days! You not only must write, but you must write more than your daily quota. You know your best day’s word count? Try to beat that today. You are close to the finish line! Don’t quit!

Now is a good time to remind you that NaNo’s word counter is different than yours. Sample what you have and see if their word counter puts you ahead or behind. Adjust accordingly.

That pretty finish line ribbon is still strung across the borders that mark your 50,000th word. That line is incredibly close. Keep going!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake

Today is my birthday, so I’m not going to write a very long post.

We’re in the last weekend of the month, and every word you can pen will get you that much closer to the finish line. Don’t give up! Keep on writing!

Pick a new snack to help with your writing today. I suggest cake. ;)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Marathon Finish

Today is the last Saturday of the month. Yes, we have reached the last weekend of November! By this time next week, NaNo season will be over. You will either be disappointed that it’s over or vastly relieved.

Either way, today you need to keep writing. You are now in the home stretch – there is less than a week left to cross the finish line. Don’t panic at the scores of people who are zeroing in on their 100k+ goals. This is a marathon. As long as you cross the finish line, you will have won. It does not matter that you didn’t cross the finish line first. That wasn’t your goal. Your goal was to finish. Whether or not your story extends beyond the 50k mark, all I want you to do is focus on that marker. You can do this!

Marathon runners train for months in order to reach their goal. While you haven’t been training for months, you’ve spent the past 23 days with your story. No one knows your story better than you. No one is more qualified to finish this story than you.

If you’re focusing on all the others who have crossed that 50k mark, please remember that this is not a true race. The people who have crossed that line are now on the sidelines and cheering you on. While NaNo is a community challenge, it is first and foremost a personal challenge. If the others who are ahead of you are bothering you, forget about them. Focus on that ribbon strung across the finish line. That ribbon is there for you. Keep on writing and edge ever closer to that fancy ribbon. You can do this! Use the weekend to your advantage. Write!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Get Excited

Sure, you were excited in the beginning of November. That was when you had a nice, shiny new plot, wonderful characters, and a concrete stopping point. But now all you see are the plot holes, character flaws, logic leaps, and perhaps a different ending.

Alas, changes and new discoveries along your writing journey are common for NaNo territory. Not all of your discoveries are good (NO! That doesn’t make sense now!). Even the reward you promised yourself is no longer motivating you. Though you’re close to the finish line, you’re convinced that you’ve written yourself into a corner and will never finish.

Discouragement is also common in NaNo. Alien spaceships that are supposed to save the day crash and burn instead. The weekend you were going to dedicate to writing was preempted by a trip to the emergency room for a sick family member. The medieval armor you’ve been describing was created a century after your time period. It happens. It is not the end. Mistakes can be fixed (and most are best to note and fix later, once the story is done).

Today, I want you to get excited again. No, your plot is not perfect. Your draft is not perfect. Your writing ability is not perfect. And your skill of stringing long words into coherent sentences together is far from perfect. Even without a single contraction, you’re still falling behind. It is okay.

Don’t focus on what you don’t know how to fix. Focus on what you do know. You have written a story. You have joined in a major challenge to cross the finish line by a set date. Regardless of all your roadblocks, you’ve still managed to write.

If you still need help getting excited about the story you’re becoming depressed with, head over to the NaNo forums. There is a thread in the NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul forum where people say nice things about what you’ve written. Someone else may be incredibly excited and interested about your little blurb. It will give you a much-needed warm-fuzzy feeling.

We had a talk earlier in the month about judging your body of work. You really can’t make an accurate judgement until it’s complete. Pretend for a moment that you’re writing the next best seller, plot holes and all. But before you can pitch your book to the masses, make millions, and quit your day job, you have to get excited about your book. If you aren’t excited about what you’re doing, don’t expect anyone else to be excited.

But joy is contagious. “I just wrote the most awesome, chapter, Johnnie! A spaceship crashed in the valley behind the two characters, right in the middle of my villain’s speech! I have no idea why the spaceship crashed, but the description of the explosion and the wreckage gave me at least 1000 words! My villain is now convinced the Intergalactic Policemen are looking for him, and he’s on the run! My main character got away without a scratch on him, and gained a new friend! Together they’ll chase the villain to his death. Isn’t that AWESOME?”

Now that you’re excited, go write that spaceship repair, or whatever it is you have on the agenda today. That ending won’t write itself.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Give Thanks

It’s Thanksgiving today in the US. While holidays can be stressful, they are also an enjoyable time usually spent with family or close friends. You may have memorable moments on days like today. You may have extra time to write (yeah!) or none at all (boo).

Your assignment on this day is to simply be thankful. What you choose to be thankful for is up to you. Find three things in your personal life for which you are grateful. Then pick three things related to your writing, preferably your story, for which you are very thankful. For instance, you could be grateful for the minor character a friend helped you name, you figured out the layout of that important location, and that the villain will die soon.

Regardless of how much time you spend writing today (Eight days left! Don’t quit!), be sure to spend some time with your family today, thank them for their indulgence in your craziness, and also thank your cook.

Now, as you finish that meal and the dishes are put away, look at the clock. Haven’t you had a nice day? How much time until you have to go to bed or leave for the store to get a deal? See if you can get in a few hundred more words. Pie is a great writing snack. ;)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Nine Days Left!

I told you at the beginning of this journey that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. I want you to take a moment today and look through what you’ve already written. You did that in less than three weeks! If life hasn’t been too crazy, you have probably passed some roadblocks and wrote something even when you didn’t want to.

Now, as the holidays approach, you’re going to be tempted to skip writing because life is too hectic. If you’re ahead in your word quota, feel free to skip a day. If you’re running behind, you could have time to catch up. If you choose to take the day off, remember you’re going to buckle down and write more when you get back to it. If you could get even half an hour of writing in during the next few days, it will help you cross the finish line.

If you’re cooking over the next few days, use that time to either mull over plot problems or solutions, or regale an uninformed relative of your story. If you get excited about your story again, you’re going to keep writing the moment you have time enough until you finish.

Don’t Lose Momentum!

If you choose to take a day off, come back to your story! Whether or not you feel you can finish by the end of the month, come back to your story. Use your time off to think about what could happen next. Do not use your vacation day as an excuse to never come back to the story.

Do you want that file on your computer to always haunt you as the thing you never finished? Do you want to look at in a few months and go “I could have finished that!” Sure, you can finish it after the November deadline, but I want as many people as possible to cross the 50k mark with me.

This is a personal challenge. What can you do in thirty days? How much can you write? How much of it will be good?

You’ll never know if you quit before the end. So, enjoy your break and come back. Prove to me, yourself, your family, and especially your naysayers that you can do this. One bite at a time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Field Trip!

Today or tomorrow, I want you to take a field trip. It can be another grocery run for the Thanksgiving dinner necessities (and more writing snacks), a visit to a local book store, or a coffee house. The only requirement is that you must go someplace where other people are present. The day to shun human interaction and do a mad dash to the finish line is not yet upon us. But, back to that trip.


As you go about your errand, smile at the rows of books on the shelves, or enjoy that coffee you’ve been craving, observe the other people there. Now that you’ve gotten the hang of writing different characters, imagine those people’s stories as they go on about their business around you. That lady that walked by – is she a mom? Is she trying to lose weight?

Watch people on your field trip. It will help if you don’t know them. If you need more characters at this point in your story, this little outing and your imaginary stories for everyone else should help. You can even describe them if you need to (one of those areas where I struggle).

That, and a change of scenery might energize you to write that next scene. Now go write! The finish line is approaching!

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Power of "What If?"

A few years ago, my older brother stayed with my family for a bit when he was working at home. Sometime during October, he left to visit a friend. Me and my mom got off work and drove him to the airport. After we’d dropped him off, we did a little shopping. I ended up around a table of jewelry, looking at what they had, seeing if any of the rings or broaches caught my eye.

I opened this one ring box and found a very pretty ring with a fake diamond for $10. I bought it just because it was pretty.

I don’t wear a lot of jewelry. But I wore this ring for a few days on my right hand. It looked very much like an engagement ring. I am not married, so I didn’t want to give that impression. One evening, about a week after I got the ring, I was on the computer. My fingers weren’t used to the ring, so I took it off. Then, just for the heck of it, I put it on the ring finger of my left hand. It looked like I was engaged.

I got distracted, I think, and I left it on for a bit. Out of nowhere, a “what if” hit me. What if you were wearing an engagement ring, but not engaged?

From that one random question came my next NaNo novel, My Name is Not Jane. The character was an amnesiac private investigator, looking to take down the company where she worked.

That book came about because my writer brain went “What if...?” Today, I want you to have a “what if” moment. What if your character says no when they’re supposed to say yes? What if the villain is delayed? Or the hero? What if someone else cooked supper tonight?

Things can spark from one random question. All you have to do is ask “what if...?”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I Think I Can

No matter how many times you lock Doubt up when you’re writing, he always escapes and comes back to haunt you another day. You know what scares him? Confidence. You’re making it through your draft, one impossibly long sentence at a time. You’ve written your way out of at least two roadblocks by now, and that ending you were unsure of looks like it’s finally coming together.

Today, we will take our dose of encouragement from The Little Engine That Could. The little train couldn’t pull the line of cars by herself over the big hill, so she left the track and tried to get help. The big engines didn’t want to help her. Another smaller engine did. It was tough, but because they worked together and believed they could do it, they made it over the hill. What did the trains say as they pulled the cars up the hill? I think I can.

In that child’s story, Doubt entered. But their chant drove him away. Their confidence was contagious. And where there is confidence, you very rarely find Doubt.

When you reach another road block in your story or when you’re facing more time constraints than you first thought, Doubt will enter again. “No, you can’t do this.” It is your job as the writer to shoo Doubt away. Don’t worry about the ending yet. Don’t worry about that roadblock or the fact you need to stop writing soon. Don’t focus on “No, you can’t,” but “Yes, I can.”

Is that next scene going to be tough? Are you unsure how it will turn out? Do you suddenly have unexpected plans over Thanksgiving weekend, ruining your writing time? When you start on your draft again, follow the advice of The Little Engine That Could.

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

You’ll be surprised how such a simple, silly thing will help you drive away Doubt and help you finish your quota.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Falling Behind

Though we’ve crossed the halfway point, though we’ve started another weekend (yeah!), and though we might have finally figured out that roadblock that’s been bothering us for a few days, there is another problem we must face – falling behind on our quota.

Things happen that take us away from writing. If it happens enough, even those of us who have built up an extra cushion of words or are aiming for goals higher than 50k will inevitably fall behind.

Keep Writing

Obviously, real life comes first. Go feed your kids, run to the grocery store, and make sure your spouse has their favorite brand of chips (you’re out of ice cream anyway, right?). It is completely possible to maintain your real life responsibilities and still cross the finish line. After the grocery store run, you can get back to your story.

Though the amount you’re falling behind may be freaking you out a little bit, you must not panic. Falling behind at some point happens to just about everyone. You are not allowed to panic until the last few days of NaNo. But that’s almost two weeks away. You have plenty of time to catch up.

But I Don’t Have Time to Catch Up!

Do you still have time to write your daily quota? If so, just add more to your quota for a few days until you’re caught up. If your writing time has flown out the window, then search for windows of opportunity to start writing. If you have a laptop (a Wrimo’s best friend), take it with you. You will be amazed how often you will have time to whip it out and write more.

Remember you don’t have to schedule two hour blocks of time in order to write. You can pen stuff in 15 or 30 minutes if you have to. This is where word wars are useful. The looming deadline is approaching, and you’re behind. Find a word war buddy online and start typing away. Or race against yourself. See if that helps you.

Don’t Give Up!

As you’ve figured out by now, I’m not keen on anyone quitting. I will always encourage you to keep on writing until you can write no more. You can do this. Go read the I Can’t Funeral again. Remember that you haven’t failed and your novel is not the most horrendous thing ever written. Don’t judge what you’ve done now. That is for later. Right now, your goal is to finish. Remember your vacation, your reward, and your motivation. You can do this!

Now go write that next scene! You need the words!

Friday, November 16, 2012

What's My Motivation?

Surely by now, you’ve wondered how you let yourself be talked into this. Your story might be at a standstill, your characters seem bland, and the plot you were all excited about two weeks ago seems boring. Though you’ve planned a reward and your vacation might be close, you’re still faced with the fact that you really don’t want to write anymore. More difficult parts are coming up, and you have no idea how to overcome them.

Today we will look at your motivation for writing this story. Are you doing it because you were convinced it’s brilliant and could make you millions? Are you doing it because you wanted to challenge yourself as a writer? Do you just want to have one complete novel under your belt? Whatever your original motivation for starting the story, I want you to reflect on that for a moment.

For me, I just wanted to finish the stories revolving around my princess so I could start on something new. I do enjoy these stories, but I’m ready to move on. But apparently I have Writer OCD, and I cannot move on to something else while I have sequel in my head to the current solution. That, and I needed a plot. I already had one for this story, so I chose this one as my NaNo project.

Why is Motivation Important?

I went to school for a theatre related field. We learned in various classes that each character had a motive. When creating our new characters for class assignments or acting out different roles, we had to ask ourselves what that character’s motivation was.

I’m asking you the same question now. What is your motivation to keep going? Do you think your story might make you millions? Then why are you not finishing it? You wanted a challenge? Then don’t quit. Do your absolute best. You wanted to finish a book? Awesome – don’t quit! You’re on the downward slope now. It will be tough, but don’t you dare quit on me!

I understand real life happens, and there are certain situations that are unavoidable. You may not be able to finish due to circumstances beyond your control. But if that does not apply to you, then get back to work! You have a novel to finish! Your character is wondering how they’re going to get out of this. Even if you’re wondering the same thing, go back to the story and see if you’re granted another moment of brilliance.

Just to make you smile, here it the video that prompted today’s topic. Thank you, Sprite!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Plan Your Reward

Take a moment to celebrate. Today is the halfway mark of NaNo! Woohoo! You should break 25k in your story today. Now, if you aren’t there yet, please do not panic. There is still plenty of time to catch up.

With the finish line finally visible in the distant horizon, today I will give you another strategy to help you keep going, despite the headaches your character is giving you. Today, I want you to think about the first of December. Your writing vacation will begin. Your local region will likely host a TGIO party, celebrating the end of NaNoWriMo and everyone’s successes. In December, you can focus on your family again, start planning holiday things, and enjoy your free evenings.

Now, to help motivate you further to finish your story, I want you to plan a reward for yourself. It does not have to be expensive. It does not have to be done alone. But I want you to promise yourself a treat when you finish your story. Regardless of your views on your story, this reward will remind you that you have accomplished a tremendous feat. You wrote a book. That’s an awesome thing. Finishing is always fun. You deserve to relish your victory.

Go get a milkshake. Watch a movie. Take your family out to dinner. Cook for your family again. Get a haircut. Buy a new outfit. Buy a new Christmas decoration. Play that game you’ve been avoiding the past month.

Do you have an appropriate reward in mind? Good. Now get back to that story and break the 25k barrier! If you can cross this line, the rest of the writing journey on this draft will get a little easier. When you get discouraged, remind yourself of that reward.  It should help you keep writing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Where Did THAT Come From?

Sometimes your stories take unexpected turns. One minute, Johnny and Susie are going to the mall. And then the car breaks down. While they’re freaking out about no cell reception, they meet Fred, who will not only fix their car for free, but turns out to be a good friend throughout the rest of the book.

Now, you meant for them to go to the mall. For whatever reason, the car broke down. Whether you had the idea as they got in the car and talked about why they need their cell phones, or you realized they needed another friend, you ended up with an unexpected part of the story.

This is a good thing. Don’t fight it. Don’t question it too much. Embrace the strange turn. Evaluate its merit later. Your job is to get to the finish line. Judging whether the words you’ve strung together are any good is a job that is months away.

Surprises are good

Generally, when you’re surprised as an author, it’s a good thing. Now, if you’re planning a surprise for your readers, it’s a different story. You have to plant hints along the way. But believe it or not, you, as the author, can be surprised as well.

Take this to mean that your characters, your setting, and your story itself is taking on a life of its own. This is good, because if it has taken on its own life, the story will be easier to complete.

Don’t get sidetracked

Now, when you meet an unplanned character or see a new place that you weren’t expecting, some part of you may get excited. Ooo. I wonder what happened there? This is where it is helpful to plan out your story. If you know that Johnny and Susie are supposed to go to the mall, then don’t let Fred distract them. While you may not have planned Fred, and are interested about him, don’t let him steal the show. Don’t let him talk Johnny and Susie into visiting his shop if you know that they’re supposed to go to the mall. Now, if you don’t know where Johnny and Susie were going to begin with, or what was important about the mall, then follow Fred. But if not, stick with the plan. Embrace the unexpected, but keep your story arc in mind. If they’re supposed to go to the mall, make sure they get there.

Be careful

For me, the unexpected turns of my story meant I hit some issues that I never intended. If you find yourself heading toward a sensitive subject, use caution. You don’t have to steer away from those topics, just address them with respect and restraint. See what happens.


Seriously, the unexpected stuff is fun. Okay, it may not be fun now, but it can be fun to read later.

So keep on writing! Reaching this step means you are doing great, and you can likely finish your story if you just put in the time. Hooray!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

To demonstrate the insanity that sometimes occurs, ruining your writing plans, here is a brief account of something I learned this summer.

This year, I wanted my NaNo story to be something new instead of a sequel of a previous story. I had a few ideas about the princess’ family that I was following, and I was unsure of what to do. Then I heard about Camp NaNoWriMo. The creators of the site duplicate the awesomeness of NaNo for the diehard fans, but put it on months that are a less stressful for some people. This year, they did a camp in June and August.

I participate in an online game during the month of June, so I set my sights on August. I would finish the stories following the princess and find a new story by November. I started rather well, and penned just over 7000 words on the first day.

Then the weekend came. I had little time that first Saturday to do anything related to writing. My church was having a final youth event for the summer. All youth leaders were encouraged to come and participate with the youth. So I came along and joined in the main game of the day – Tank Wars.

Each team’s main goal was to defend our tank – one designated person – from getting wet. Due to other circumstances, our tank was the most vulnerable. We were determined to play to the best of our ability. During the last round, people from other teams were allowed to enter our team’s area. I was assigned to guard the tank and to stop anyone that approached by any means necessary.

Some kid ran in from the team directly in front of me, holding a water gun. Remembering my mission, I became determined to stop this kid. When it became clear he was going to run around me, I tried to take the water gun out of his hands. We struggled. And somewhere in the process of trying to defend my teammate, my ring finger on my left hand apparently bent back. I let go when a searing pain began around my finger.

Less than five minutes later, our team was disqualified when our tank ran out of their designated area. :(

When my finger was still throbbing two hours later, I went to Urgent Care. An x-ray confirmed I had broken my finger. I was given a splint and told to rest. I was told to follow up with a doctor that week. That doctor put two of my fingers in a cast for three weeks and ordered me to rest it.

Now, back to my NaNo story. I was able to type slowly with my injured finger in a stabilizer, but it still hurt my hand, even if I didn’t use my hurt finger. I was determined to keep going, but I couldn’t type. So I pulled out a notebook I had bought just that weekend and began handwriting the next scene. When I was put in a cast, I had no choice but keep writing the story by hand.

By the end of August, I had three notebooks full of handwritten chapters. After a few online word wars, I learned that I averaged at least 250 words per page. Using this safe guesstimate, I counted the number of pages in my notebooks and added that to my word count total of my story. Though I did not validate, I managed to pen around 61,000 words during the month of August. Over half of that was by hand.

If I can do it with one hand on paper, you, with two good hands and a computer, should be able to reach 50,000 words in 30 days. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Monday, November 12, 2012

I Can't

You’ve kicked Doubt out the door a number of times in the past several days, I see. Good job. But he always keeps crawling back in. Sneaky little thing. Kick him out again. Doubt has no place in your draft.

If you need more encouragement today, take a moment to read this story from Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Donna's fourth-grade classroom looked like many others I had seen in the past. Students sat in five rows of six desks. The teacher's desk was in the front and faced the students. The bulletin board featured student work. In most respects it appeared to be a typically traditional elementary classroom. Yet something seemed different that day I entered it for the first time. There seemed to be an undercurrent of excitement.

Donna was a veteran small-town Michigan schoolteacher only two years away from retirement. In addition she was a volunteer participant in a county-wide staff development project I had organized and facilitated. The training focused on language arts ideas that would empower students to feel good about themselves and take charge of their lives. Donna's job was to attend training sessions and implement the concepts being presented. My job was to make classroom visitations and encourage implementation.

I took an empty seat in the back of the room and watched. All the students were working on a task, filling a sheet of notebook paper with thoughts and ideas. The ten-year-old student closest to me was filling her page with "I Can'ts."

"I can't kick the soccer ball past second base."

"I can't do long division with more than three numerals."

"I can't get Debbie to like me."

Her page was half full and she showed no signs of letting up. She worked on with determination and persistence.

I walked down the row glancing at students' papers. Everyone was writing sentences, describing things they couldn't do.

"I can't do ten push-ups."

"I can't hit one over the left-field fence."

"I can't eat only one cookie."

By this time, the activity engaged my curiosity, so I decided to check with the teacher to see what was going on. As I approached her, I noticed that she too was busy writing. I felt it best not to interrupt.

"I can't get John's mother to come in for a teacher conference."

"I can't get my daughter to put gas in the car."

"I can't get Alan to use words instead of fists."

Thwarted in my efforts to determine why students and teacher were dwelling on the negative instead of writing the more positive "I Can" statements, I returned to my seat and continued my observations. Students wrote for another ten minutes. Most filled their page. Some started another.

"Finish the one you're on and don't start a new one," were the instructions Donna used to signal the end of the activity. Students were then instructed to fold their papers in half and bring them to the front. When students reached the teacher's desk, they placed their "I Can't" statements into an empty shoe box.

When all of the student papers were collected, Donna added hers. She put the lid on the box, tucked it under her arm and headed out the door and down the hall. Students followed the teacher. I followed the students.

Halfway down the hall the procession stopped. Donna entered the custodian's room, rummaged around and came out with a shovel. Shovel in one hand, shoe box in the other, Donna marched the students out of the school to the farthest corner of the playground. There they began to dig.

They were going to bury their "I Can'ts"! The digging took over ten minutes because most of the fourth-graders wanted a turn. When the hole approached three-feet deep, the digging ended. The box of "I Can'ts" was placed in position at the bottom of the hole and quickly covered with dirt.

Thirty-one 10- and 11-year-olds stood around the freshly dug grave site. Each had at least one page full of "I Can'ts" in the shoe box, four-feet under. So did their teacher.

At this point Donna announced, "Boys and girls, please join hands and bow your heads." The students complied. They quickly formed a circle around the grave, creating a bond with their hands. They lowered their heads and waited. Donna delivered the eulogy.

"Friends, we gather today to honor the memory of 'I Can't.' While he was with us on earth, he touched the lives of everyone, some more than others. His name, unfortunately, has been spoken in every public building—schools, city halls, state capitols and yes, even The White House.

 "We have provided 'I Can't' with a final resting place and a headstone that contains his epitaph. He is survived by his brothers and sister 'I Can', 'I Will' and 'I'm Going to Right Away.' They are not as well known as their famous relative and are certainly not as strong and powerful yet. Perhaps some day, with your help, they will make an even bigger mark on the world.

"May ‘I Can't’ rest in peace and may everyone present pick up their lives and move forward in his absence. Amen."

As I listened to the eulogy I realized that these students would never forget this day. The activity was symbolic, a metaphor for life. It was a right-brain experience that would stick in the unconscious and conscious mind forever. Writing "I Can'ts," burying them and hearing the eulogy. That was a major effort on the part of this teacher. And she wasn't done yet. At the conclusion of the eulogy she turned the students around, marched them back into the classroom and held a wake.

They celebrated the passing of "I Can't" with cookies, popcorn and fruit juices. As part of the celebration, Donna cut out a large tombstone from butcher paper. She wrote the words "I Can't" at the top and put RIP in the middle. The date was added at the bottom.

The paper tombstone hung in Donna's classroom for the remainder of the year. On those rare occasions when a student forgot and said, "I Can't," Donna simply pointed to the RIP sign. The student then remembered that "I Can't" was dead and chose to rephrase the statement.

I wasn't one of Donna's students. She was one of mine. Yet that day I learned an enduring lesson from her. Now, years later, whenever I hear the phrase, "I Can't," I see images of that fourth-grade funeral. Like the students, I remember that "I Can't" is dead.

Chick Moorman

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I Don't Know What I'm Doing!

It suddenly hits you as you sit down to pen that next scene that you have no idea what you’re doing. You likely did not major in English, you haven’t read enough books, and you’re wondering what the forum people are talking about when they’re mentioning a Mary Sue. Beyond that, you’re only inching along in the story.

First off, relax. Remember there is no wrong way to write. What works well for the person who’s already penned 20k may not work well for you. Part of the writing process is to learn what works well for you. Part of this NaNo experience is to push you a bit. If you’re freaking out a little bit, fretting over your story and its current problem, you are likely on the right track.

But I Don’t Have a Map!

If you plan a trip for a place you’ve never visited before, you prepare. You book a room if you will stay overnight or touch base with the friend who has offered you their couch. When it’s time to leave, you either look up directions online or plug in the address into GPS. You follow the directions and trust the map. Nine times out of ten, the map will lead you properly to that destination. Alas, your story has no such map.

At times like this, if you’ve planned ahead, you can refer to your outline. You will remember the subplot you’re supposed to institute. You can talk about a new setting that will be important later. You will remember a moment of brilliance from a few weeks before, and it will send you on your merry way back to your story. You have a plan, and this plan will help you cross the finish line

If you have not planned ahead, going forward when you’re unsure of what you’re doing is harder. Please remember that there are no wrong answers. Try something new with your characters. Put them in a different place. See what works. Remember, you can delete the scenes you hate at another time.

Either way, the same brain that birthed your story idea holds the answer to your current plot problem. If you have no clue of what to do, ask on the forums. Helpful souls in desperate need of procrastination will offer their advice. But likely, you are on the right track. Realizing you’ve run into a problem you didn’t plan is most likely a good sign.

I Haven’t Been Trained To Do This!

Few have been trained about what to do when your characters hit a road block. But that is all right. The only way you can learn is to do it yourself. Stinks, doesn’t it? Sorry, that is the way of writing. The person who wrote about the road block will have to be the person who writes their characters out of the situation. Others can offer suggestions if you visit the forums, but you will have to determine which course is right for you.

Take a deep breath. Remember when you had the story idea? Remember how you named your characters? Remember when you realized Jessie drove a Green Honda? You already figured out those details when the story needed them. You will figure this out, too.

Don’t Listen to Doubt!

Doubt has no place in your draft! Your doubt want you to quit. Your doubt wants you to leave this story for the professionals. Don’t listen. The professional writers didn’t have this idea. You did. And you’re the best person to tell this story to the world.

Take a look at that draft again. Read over what you have. Tackle that problem the same way you’re conquering your draft – one bite at a time.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Writer's Block

I have been asked over the past few days how to overcome writer’s block. Some people have great ideas and never seem to translate them into story form. Others are excited about their story and can’t wait to write the next scene. Then after the scene they’ve been waiting for...they get stuck.

Do Not Panic

No matter how excited you are about your story, there will come a time when you aren’t sure what comes next. It is all right. It happens to all of us. This roadblock does not mean your story will die. It is a problem, but one that can be solved.

While some of my suggestions will not apply to all writers, this is definitely one that applies to everyone – don’t panic!

Take a Break

Yes, we are in a race, and time matters. But sometimes breaks can clear your head. Walk outside. Acknowledge the other people in your house. Do some chores. Feed your neglected pets. Watch a TV show. Try to relax. You are not at the end of the road. You have not failed. You have not abandoned your story. You are taking a break. Breaks are good.

No matter what type of writer you are, breaks will help!


If taking a break doesn’t help you, try rereading what you’ve written. To me, it helps to read the scene I just penned to figure out where I’m going next. I might get stuck because I just wrote something that doesn’t mesh with the rest and my brain is going nuts. Or it might help me remember where I need to go next. Or I left a clue that I forgot about in that last scene.

Now, remember that all writers are different. If you can’t reread without fixing everything, and you know that you’ll never move forward if you go back and reread, then skip this step.

Skip a Scene

I’m the type of person that has to write things chronologically. I have seen this suggestion many times, and I will repeat it here. Though personally I cannot do that, it helps others. Some people suggest skipping around and writing the exciting parts when you get bored or stuck. I think the theory is that it helps you get in the zone again, then you can go back and figure out what you’re missing.

If you cannot do this step, then ignore it.

Make a Note

This is another suggestion I’ve never been able to implement. But in trying these things, you will eventually find what works for you – which is what we’re aiming for.

Say you’ve planned out your story, and you know that Sally and Johnny will talk about Important Plot Point C after entering the alien building. But you aren’t sure what that alien building looks like, and you aren’t sure what to call this building, this alien race or even if it should be different.

Or maybe you’re stuck because you’re not sure how to transition from this conversation into Important Plot Point C. Try making a note and moving on. Weird alien building description here. It’s green.

See if jumping past what is tripping you up will help.

Reward Yourself

Set out a treat for yourself, perhaps your favorite snack or beverage. But you cannot partake of your treat until you reach X amount of words. I’ve heard of people who eat one M&M every 50 words. Having a tangible reward in front of you may help you move on.


“But I can’t!” you object. “I don’t know what to write!”

Did I mention that writing doesn’t exactly work logically? Sometimes all you need to do when you don’t know what to do is to start writing. Whether or not you like what you’re writing, the difficult parts or the places you are unsure of generally do not last for long. You can always go back and fix things. Just write something down. You know Johnny is down in the dumps and you aren’t exactly sure why. Or you don’t want to be depressed today. It’s okay. Just write something.

See if writing half a page helps. If not, take another break.

Take the Day Off

The time will come when you race to the finish line and type until you are exhausted. But if you need time away from your story to deal with real life or contemplate what happens next, do it.

Know that you can always come back to your story. The time apart will do you good, most likely. And while you can theoretically take a break for weeks or months, then come back and finish your story, that is not what I recommend. I’m talking about finishing your story for this NaNo, not the next one.

Did I Forget Anything?

If you’ve found something that helps you get past writer’s block, then feel free to share it!

Friday, November 9, 2012

What If It’s No Good?

So, you’ve reached the point in the story where you’ve met your characters, set the scene, and the conflict has been introduced. And while you’re probably really excited about your story, you’re wondering at the same time if it’s any good. The coworkers, friends, and relatives you regale with your last impressive dialogue bit just smile politely at you instead of agreeing that you are, in fact, brilliant. If you’ve happened to reread what you’ve written (some do, some don’t), you might be panicked because the scenes that seemed awesome three days ago now seem bland. The doubt that always plagues a writer now seems more credible than ever. You wonder in the back of your mind constantly, what if it’s no good?

Don’t Judge It Now

Any new story will seem awesome, brilliant, and perfect to you. Maybe not to the rest of the world, but to you at least. That is okay. New stories are good things for writers, even if we are the only ones to ever read them.

It will take time, hard work, and dedication to complete your book. The writing process is a very challenging, frustrating, and irritating experience. It can also be fun and rewarding. One day, a few months from now, you will open up your completed document and look over the little manuscript you chose to create in a moment that you later described as insanity. No matter how bad your book may be, I have found it is still rewarding to see what you have written.

What I’ve discovered is you can’t judge a new story as it is still taking shape. You don’t know if it will be brilliant or not until after you’ve completed it. Even then, it will likely be a month or two before you can look back at your book and make any kind of sound judgment on story. You may choose to clean up your mess and move on toward publishing. You may decide it is a piece of trash. Either way, it is okay. You have completed a book, and you have won.

You Have Not Failed

Even if you decide after rereading your manuscript that the book is no good and deserves to be deleted from existence, it is okay. You have not wasted the days you spent slaving over a keyboard, pouring your heart and soul into a story that you now hate. If you reach the conclusion at some point in the future that this story needs to be erased or just dropped, it is fine.

You will have gained experience from such a book. You have learned how to complete a book without your head exploding. You have learned to manage your life and complete a work of art. Not every artist paints something worthy of being shown in a museum, right?  You will have learned something from the time it took to complete your book, and you can apply it to your next writing venture.

Believe In Yourself

Let’s head to that unfinished manuscript. You’re wondering whether or not it’s any good. Sadly, you won’t know for a while whether or not the story you’ve created is good enough to entertain anyone beyond you or people who know you. But that’s not important right now. What you have to do is set those details aside. Set your doubts aside. Believe in yourself.

Time will tell whether or not the manuscript you’re slowly but surely cranking out is the Next Great American Novel. You don’t know anything for certain right now, so we will just imagine that it is so. On the days when Doubt is whispering, “This is crazy! You can’t do this! This book isn’t even that good! You should quit!” just ignore it.

Imagine instead that you’re writing the next bestseller series, like Twilight or the Hunger Games (If nothing else, respect their success). What if you’re writing an awesome story that has the potential to make millions? How would you feel if you never finished it? What if writing is your calling, and you’ll never know it unless you finish this book? How will those following your progress on the story feel if they hear you want to give up?

Sure, you may not be writing the next bestseller. You may not make millions of dollars. You may end up trashing the whole book and being glad about it. But you don’t know anything yet, because the story isn’t finished. You haven’t given yourself time to find out if the novel is any good. Don’t sell yourself short. For just a moment, believe in yourself. Believe that this story has the potential to reach millions of readers. And each of those readers want to make you rich.

Now start writing that next scene. One day, we’ll find out if you’re right when you daydream about success. But not until you finish.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Plan Your Vacation Now

Now that you’re settled into a routine of some sort involving your writing, I want you to look ahead. Take a look at your calendar and run through what you have scheduled in the next few weeks. Yup. Thanksgiving is approaching. This could mean you will not be writing that day because you’re cooking the meal, or you’re getting up at 5am, putting the turkey in the oven, and using the extra hours when you could be sleeping to write more in your story.

Whether or not your Thanksgiving plans will impact your writing goals, I want you to use this time to think ahead. Yes, November will end and you will not need to write for a while. But I want you to pick a date in November as your vacation day.

On this day, you will not write. You can focus on your neglected chores, pets, and family. You can take time to watch the program you’ve been recording the past few weeks. You can remind yourself what December feels like.

Have you found a date that you want to spend off the computer? Good.

Keep Writing
Now that you have a goal in mind, it is your job to get ahead. In order to use this date as your vacation, you must have an extra word cushion. This will enable you to not only enjoy your vacation, but not stress about your story. Okay, at least not stress about your story as you’re writing it. If you create one day’s quota worth of cushion, you can skip a day and come back the next time refreshed.


Breaks give you perspective. I have always taken at least one day off from my book during the month of November. My birthday is always around Thanksgiving, so I use one of those two days to relax and be with my family.

Last year, my older brother came to visit for Thanksgiving. I wrote that morning. I was excited, because I was nearing the end of the story. But when he came, I finished my thought, saved the program, and put up my laptop. I did not write for the rest of the day.

For the record, when you’re that close to the end, it’s really hard to stop. But I did it because I wanted to spend time with my brother instead of enjoying the fact that he was in the room while simultaneously ignoring him. Looking back, I’m glad I stopped. I thought I would finish that day. I didn’t. I had about another three chapters to go. I would have spent all day obsessing about nearing the end instead of enjoying the holiday with my family.

Keep Your Vacation in Mind

When you’re getting frustrated with your story and its lack of progress, look back at the calendar. You don’t have to wait until December to lay the story aside. Your vacation is coming up. But in order to enjoy it, you have to keep writing. Give yourself other things you can do on your vacation day if you reach this amount of words by a certain date or time. See what happens.

Giving yourself challenges and then rewarding yourself for meeting them is very satisfying. That is part of the reason the NaNoWriMo challenge works so well.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Practice Makes Perfect

The age old adage is true for just about anything new you’re learning to do. Playing the piano, driving a car, cooking, beating the last level of a video game – if you practice long enough, you will eventually be able to not only achieve your goal, but get the steps down to perfection.

With enough practice, you can play a song on the piano flawlessly. You can cook a meal without burning anything that also tastes good. You can drive a car without hitting anything (or scaring anyone). All it takes is practice, and you will eventually do it perfectly.

Alas, this is not true of writing. I don’t care if you’re Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or Frank Peretti, you’re not going to write a perfect book your first time through. Even if you’ve written a hundred different books, even if you’ve been published many times, and even if you know the story you’re about to pen like the back of your hand – the first draft will not be perfect. Even the authors who write best sellers every time will not write perfect drafts.


There is no such thing as a perfect draft. A draft indicates it is not done. And even when you possess a full length manuscript, alas, that isn’t perfect, either.

For whatever reason, first drafts will be full of mistakes. Whether you’re the kind of writer that corrects typos as they go or saves them all for after the pressures of the novel are over, you will still have errors. There will be big errors (oops, I never mentioned that character again) and small errors (their, not there). And silly errors (whoops, I meant the home country there, not the enemy country). It happens. There will be time to fix your errors. Lots of time. Trust me.

But don’t worry about that now (unless you’re one of the writers who can’t go on unless you fix the error in your third paragraph. Then by all means, fix it). Your goal in writing this novel is not to achieve perfection.

This is not learning the piano, singing a song, riding a bike, cooking a meal, or driving a car. You are writing a book. There is nothing like it. No matter how many times you’ve done it before, you will always make some mistakes.

Well, What’s the Point?

The beauty of writing is that practice does help. You learn what not to do. You learn what works best for you. You learn what to do better. You remember to add details if you’re the kind of person that forgets them in the first draft.

Say it with me: Perfection is not the goal.

Finishing is our goal. Regardless of what your intentions are with your story (I have heard of some who burn the bad sections), your goal is to finish what you started. If things get to the point where you cannot meet your goal by the end of the month, that is fine. Set your story aside. But come back to it. I have favorite parts in all my novels, including the ones I have decided not to pursue publishing. Those stories helped me in other ways. I enjoy reading them. It was fun to do at the time.

But most importantly, the things those books taught me was how to write. I learned how to write a mystery when I didn’t know all the details of the crime. I learned how to write historical fiction by reading the Biblical account of the character I was following (and a whole lot of embellishing and making it up because I was too lazy to do research). Regardless, I learned from the venture.

Don’t beat yourself up that your story isn’t perfect. Perfection is not the goal. Accept that you are hammering out a draft. This draft will be made up only by long hours in front of your computer. It will take blood, sweat, and tears. It will take dedication. It will take time.

NaNoWriMo is not about creating a perfect book. It is about pulling a first draft out. It is about learning to create time to sit down and write. Chances are, if you can do it once, during one month, you will do it at other times as well.

Have you found one of those errors yet? Good. It is a sign that you are not perfect and you will never be perfect. However, with practice, your writing will get better. That, my friends, is our goal.

Now go, WRITE! (Win!)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tell People What You’re Doing

At some point in the very near future, you’re going to reconsider your NaNo goal. You might have a crazy schedule, kids with various homework demands, or you’re starting to miss your normal evening routine. What will stop you from giving up on the story you’ve started? If you aren't careful, it will be a variety of everything.

 How Do You Fix That?

We talked about the power of positive peer pressure recently. That is true in write-ins, but it’s also true elsewhere. You need to tell people what you are trying to do. Tell as many people as you can. Inform Facebook. Tell your family why you’re running to the computer in between browning the hamburger for supper. Tell them you are writing a book. They will either ask you why or what it’s

Trust me, they will get bored with the logistics of your story soon enough. But for now, they will be interested. They may offer ideas. Some may tell you of a few books they’ve read about the subject. But the majority will offer support. They will tell you that’s great. They may not understand why you want to write a story, but few will discourage you from the task.

Now, when you reach the moment of doubt and consider leaving your story alone, you will remember all those people following your progress on Facebook. You’ll remember when your spouse made supper the night before so you could write. You will remember your kids trying to be quiet as you worked to finish the chapter. You will remember the coworker who always asks how the story is going.

When you consider quitting, remember these people. You’d be surprised how the thought of admitting to others you have quit will keep you motivated to keep going.

Remember that writing breaks are a good idea. Quitting on the story is not a good idea. You won’t know if the story is any good until you finish.

Now, go tell Facebook what you’ll be up to this month. You will be surprised at the amount of support and interest you’ll receive. I told my Facebook friends one time that I would edit one page of my manuscript for each like the status received. I got 25 likes from people I would have never thought cared about my writing.

We’ll talk more about keeping on with your story when you’re unsure of where to go. But for now, just focus on telling as many people as possible. You will be thankful for this step later on.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Productivity During Nap Time

Currently, I’m being paid to watch an elderly woman with balance issues. All I really have to do it make sure she doesn’t fall. This involves walking behind her when she moves around the house, watching as she prepares her meals, and basically making sure she remembers to hold on to something sturdy while standing. Things she mostly remembers. I’m here just in case anything should happen.

My charge takes naps daily. So I’ve been paid the past few days to surf the internet, play games, and work on my latest book while my charge is otherwise occupied.

Back when I worked in daycare, I learned how to get what you needed done while the kids were asleep. The two to three hour quiet time was the time to clean bibs, tables, chairs, bathrooms, etc. It was the time for the teachers to eat lunch and compare notes over what happened when Johnny refused to eat his peas and threw them at Susie.

When November rolled around, I would use nap time to pull out my laptop and bang out a chapter. I used all the time available to write for a bit. I might not finish the scene I was working on before I was called away, but at least I put something down.

I’m using that same principle when my charge is napping. I will focus on my writing duties while she’s asleep. Since I never know if her naps will last half an hour or two hours, I have a few tricks that let me move forward in the story quickly.

Plan Your Conversations

I like writing dialogue. I’ve been told that I’m good at it. There are scenes of dialogue that I end up writing rather quickly because I’ve already had my characters have this conversation in my head. I know who has the zingers, who lays down ultimatums, and who has the line I can’t wait to write. I often don’t have things verbatim when I sit down for these scenes, but I have a few lines in mind that I build toward.

Know What Happens Next

We’ve all reached that dead end. You’ve set the scene, you’ve outlined the stakes, and your character enters – and you don’t know where things will go after that. It is okay. Sometimes you have to sit in front of your screen, read the last part again, and just start writing to figure out what happens next.

But for me, those moments are few and far between. This is because when I’m actively writing, even if I don’t have the concrete ending in mind, I do have an idea what happens next. I let the scene play out in my head long before it goes onto the virtual piece of paper.

For instance, I knew that the King, his brothers, and the clergy set out to save the princess in one story I finished a few months ago. I knew they were delayed. And I knew the clergy would get to talk to his brothers-in-law more about God. But I didn’t know until I visited them again exactly what happened. I realized as I wrote that one of the brothers would be hurt in a battle, and the others would angry with the clergy over the fact that the God he said controls everything was letting their brother die. It would be a perfect opportunity to outline the “why do bad things happen to good people” argument. I knew by the end of the chapter, the brother would live because of the pastor’s prayer. I even knew the ending line of the chapter. But I didn’t know what the clergy would say until the incident happened before me. I let that conversation play out as it happened. When I finished the scene, I had three pages of the conversation I wanted to portray. I wrote that scene (which ended up being two chapters) quickly because I knew what happened next.

Once you know your characters and you have a general idea where things will go, let your mind wander as you’re doing something routine like making a meal. What would happen if Susie walked in and Harold announced his undying love for her? Does she even like Harold? What if Susie likes Johnnie, but Johnnie likes Mary, who’s hopelessly in love with Harold? Let your mind wander during the day (when you can) and go over “what if?” scenarios. You can learn a lot about your characters even if you never use the material. Maybe from that love triangle you realized that Mary and Johnnie belong together, and Susie’s story will move on after her heart breaks without even worrying about Harold’s unwelcome declaration of his feelings.

Know What Doesn’t Happen

You will have to learn your characters well enough to know what will not happen with them. When I first started writing about this princess, I knew she would find her true love in the clergyman. Before I got them to meet, I had to show she was bored with her constant stream of suitors. Then I had her ride away and long for her true love.

This girl’s days were pretty much the same. After showing how one suitor didn’t hold her interest for long, I knew I needed to follow her again as she met someone else. To my surprise, the young man who took the girl’s hand introduced himself. It is rare for a character to introduce themselves without planning on my part. The two carried on for a bit. Her mind wandered, and the young man, Henry, noticed. By the time the scene ended, she had raced him on horseback and won. He accepted his defeat graciously. The princess agreed to see him again.

By the end of this scene, I was kind of confused. I’d met a decent rich young man who had made my stubborn princess smile. But since I knew Henry was not part of her future, I kept going. I ended up having him miss a meeting with her so she could go back to the waterfall and meet her true love. His servant sent her a yellow flower and apologized in his stead. I knew from the moment the servant handed her the flower that Henry was cheating on her. And from there it was easy to write him out of the story. But I only got to that point because I knew that Henry was not a big part of the story.

Pay Attention to the World Around You

Yes, when you are writing, the rest of the world may be irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what’s on TV, what song is playing, or even what the person in the next room is saying. You’re focusing on what Susie will do when she finds out that Johnnie is engaged to Mary. But during those lulls while you are writing, be sure to pause. Make sure the woman talking in the next room isn’t talking to you (if she is, answer!). Take a minute to watch that commercial that makes you smile. Acknowledge your pet that’s close by. Take a sip of your drink before the ice melts.

Back when I was interning, our class went to the library for the entire period. All I really had to do was be there, and there wasn’t a lot for me to supervise or do. It was also November, and I was in the middle of a NaNoWriMo story. So I did what any good little Wrimo would do with time on their hands. I sat down at a table, pulled out my notebook, and started writing a scene. I had just about finished when I happened to shift position and look to my left. Sometime since I had begun writing, a student of my class had sat down right beside me and started taking a test. Clearly, the clinical teacher had told them to sit there so I could watch them. But I was oblivious because I was too caught up in my own little world of crashing spaceships. I did write more that day, but I was careful to pay more attention to what was around me even while writing.

So even while you’re tapping away diligently in the quiet moments of your day (like nap time), please don’t forget to pay attention to what’s going on around you. Look at the kids napping. Make sure the person in the next room isn’t shouting at you. Sooner or later, the real world will draw you away from the world you’re creating. It’s best to pay attention so you’re not surprised when the time to step away comes.

When you get the hang of it, this becomes almost easy. But it does take some practice.

I will leave you today with a picture stolen from a Facebook friend that I meant to share last week.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Power of Positive Peer Pressure

Today, we will talk about write-ins. If at all possible, I would encourage you to find a local group and see if you can meet at least once this month. Yes, not everyone’s local chapter is exactly “local” to them. Yes, it might require driving a long distance. But write-ins are usually worth the extra effort it takes for you to get there.


There’s something very encouraging about meeting with others who have decided to participate in this challenge. You will meet new people. You will laugh. And you will write.

I’ve mentioned before that I work best in silence. Now, while the main goal at a write-in is to write, it’s also a chance to bounce ideas off of people and brag about your latest word count. There is a lot of talking at a write-in. On the days when my local group meets, I usually could have gotten more writing accomplished if I’d stayed at home. But I choose to go because the company and the atmosphere is worth the trade off in word count. That, and my family doesn’t care if I’ve finished the difficult scene or written 15,000 words. At least, not as much as my NaNo group.

You Will Write

Yes, this is an obvious point. But if your environment at home is driving you nuts and you’re having a hard time writing, pack up and go to a write-in. See if having others experiencing the same problems will motivate you to write more. And a different atmosphere is always a good thing to try during NaNo. You might like where the group meets and decide you can visit that place or somewhere like it to help you write.

New Ideas

Ever reached a point in your story where you’re stuck? You need a character or country name, and your brain is not cooperating? If I’m at home when this happens, I either take a break or go to the forums. I’m the type of writer that cannot go (Name here) and keep going. I have to have a name. The right name.

I’m bad sometimes about coming up with names. Certain ones come to me right away. Last year, I knew the princess’ name was Jasmine, and the clergy’s name was Trevor. I knew the princess had four older brothers and one older sister. I knew none of their names. I went to the forums and asked. Some lovely person gave me at least four of the names I needed. It was awesome, but I had to wait a few days for the names. That worked because I was  planning and didn't need it right away.

I was at a write-in a few weeks later when the princess had an argument with her mom. It ended badly. The head of the Royal Guard entered to escort the princess away. I knew that this man would be an important part of the story. I knew he was a good guy, but also a good guard. He needed a name. But I didn’t have one.

So I turned to my writing friends and explained I needed to name my guard. One of the first suggestions was Marcus. I liked it and moved on. It took mere seconds instead of days.

If you’re wrestling with a problem or struggling for the right word, see if any of your writing buddies can help you.

Word Wars

This is one of my favorite parts of NaNo. Word wars are a timed challenge to write as many words as possible within the given time frame (usually 15 to 30 minutes). I usually don’t win word wars, but I love them anyway. I’m impressed at what I can come up with in 15 minutes.

Positive Peer Pressure

If you’re having a hard time completing your quota, attend a write-in. Having five people around you all working on a story might be the push you need to get past your own barrier. This is another advantage of word wars – if everyone’s writing, you’ll want to join in. You may be the loser of the word war, but you may have written more in that time than you might have written otherwise.


Did I mention write-ins are fun? They’re a break from the monotony of staring at your computer screen and the same four walls where you do the majority of your writing. You can try that pumpkin spice latte everyone’s raving about. You can read aloud a line you’re proud of. You can focus. You can celebrate the craziness that is NaNoWriMo. And that atmosphere of celebration and expectation will help you get a little closer to that ultimate finish line.